Saturday, 1 September 2012

Tackling the 250

Taking down Sight and Sound's greatest one at a time.

So it's been discussed to death, but if didn't already know, it's 2012 and that means it's been ten years since the last Sight and Sound 'Greatest Movies of All time' list. Around the world critics and directors are asked to select their own ten favourie films. Here are the two completel lists if anyone who hasn't already had the chance wants to check them out:

My count is rather dismal currently; 105 for the Critics, 57 for the Directors. So I've given myself a challenge of finishing off each list over the coming months, aiming to get a few titles a week. I will offer a quick review of each and give my (rather unqualified) opinion as to whether or not they are worthy of their rank. 

So for issue one, lets discuss two radically different Avant-garde pieces.

8 1/2
Director: Fedirico Felini
Year: 1963
Nationality: Italy
Ranking: 10# (Critic) 4# (Director)

Highly regarded as the ultimate film on the subject of movie making, Fellini's drama about a director struggling to create a profound feature that lives up to the audience and critic expectations whilst trying to juggle his relationships and attempting to look for happiness and meaning within it all is probably the most personal meta-film ever made. It's been a favourite with directors just as much as critics in all the polls conducted with Sight and Sound since it's release. 

I had seen about half (no pun intended) of 8 1/2 last year in film class, sleeping through the middle sections of the film. Since then I've seen just two others from Fellini's canon; La Dolce Vita and Amarcord. The former I found rather monumentally uninteresting while the latter still remains my favourite due it's romantic and ghostly nostalgia. Had I known that by falling asleep I'd pretty much given myself a 'best of' version of 8 1/2, I probably wouldn't have bothered rewatching the whole thing. 

Honestly, I can see why people love this film, and Fellini's work in general and I really wish I could feel the same as them. But there is just something holding me back...

Fellini's direction is a constant treat, his camera is just as restless as Guido, constantly moving towards something but never settling very long. He adopts this approach towards his 'performers.' The term carnivalesque feels most appropriate; a flowing school of people moving into and out of the spotlight only for another to take their place. Mastroianni's Guido, suffering from 'life' block (more than just director's block) to the point were even his fantasy's break down. Although most of the other cast annoy the hell out of me, especially his wife, surprisingly because the wife in La Dolce Vita was a much more sympathetic character. I love the surrealistic scenes, especially the day dreaming scenes with the women in his life and the scene with Saraghina.

My problem is something much more personal; I just don't really care about Fellini's own insecurities and difficulties. He's clearly not a director who's had a total crash in inspiration since this is basically the cinematic equivalent of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. I also don't like his writing style, it feels too constructed, everybody talks the same. By the end I couldn't wait to eject the disc and set the film back on my shelf.

I think I'll come back to Fellini when I'm older but at the moment I feel like I'm missing something that everyone else see's, like a joke that everyone else gets. I can see why filmmakers love it, I can see why critics revel in it's expressive cinematic language and I can see how it would strike a chord with those middle aged 'cafe social class' with added religious upbringing. It's not for me, but I cannot deny it's standing. 


Director: Michael Snow
Year: 1967
Nationality: Canada
Rank: =102# (Critics) Unranked (Directors)


Okay, okay, not quite. But you could forgive pretty much anyone for passing this off as impenetrable, underground bullshit. To say it's not for everyone is to put it mildly; Wavelength is Canadian director Michael Snow's meditation on the 'nervous system, religious inklings and aesthetic ideas.' A 43 minute long, single zoom through the mostly empty apartment we are left almost entirely on our own to mull over it's meaning. 

First off I want to just say it is a testement to Snow that this film is as intense as it is. The single zoom is punctuated by edits, colour changes, shifts in time all of which are unstructured, lacking in rhythm. A single static sound effect increases makes up what we percieve is the soundtrack increasing with intensity and force to the point where it becomes unbearable.There is very little human interaction only four points in total - a woman instructs two men on where to place a wardrobe, that same woman enters with a friend who drink in silence listening to The Beatles 'Strawberry Fields Forever.' Later the sound of glass breaking is heard, Hollis Frampton walks through the apartment only to collapse and die. Finally another women enters, she phones the police and tells them about the dead man, whom she does not know. It's surprisingly quite a distressing, gruelling film to witness.    

It's difficult to dechiper much of what 'happens' in Wavelength. Only each invidual viewer can take what they want from it. For me, it is a moment of near-breakdown. An isolated body shut off from the outside, the increasingly eratic colour scheme and intesifying frequency sound effect suggest the emotional bearings being burned out, on the verge of collapse. 

Seen as the first 'structural film' by P. Adams Sitney, it scales back the trend in avant-garde cinema towards the complex. It is a simple piece, that doesn't dwell on the human actions, instead it questions what cinema should be about. 

If you have 43 minutes to spare, I recommend Wavelength (The whole film is available here) as a challenging and unconventional watch. I'm surprised it's not on the director list personally, given its reputation amongst underground filmmakers. If not for it's entertainment value, it's certainly a valuable film for it's philosophical complexities.  


Thats it for my first entry into Tackling the top 250. Next time I'm going to have a look at Chris Marker's philosophical films La Jetée and Sans Soliel.


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